The Q&A Archives: Immature Fruit On Fig Tree

Question: We live in Zone 7. We have a brown turkey fig tree that we bought last year from a local nursery. We planted it where it gets sun and added lots of compost to the soil. Last fall we overwintered the tree by putting stakes around the tree, sorrounding it with burlap and filling it with leaves. We did not fertilize it this spring. The tree had a fall crop, (no summer crop) but the figs were hard and green and did not ripen. What went wrong?

Answer: It sounds as though you're doing all the right things to keep your fig tree healthy. I suspect that since you planted it only a year ago, it's just too young to be able to set and ripen fruit. Give it another year or two to become established before expecting great harvests. Then, iff the fruit fails to mature, it simply means they simply aren't getting the heat and long growing season they require. Figs are easy to grow in warm climates, but produce their best fruit in Mediterranean climates with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. Although they are a subtropical species, mature trees are fully cold hardy to 15 or 20 F. People who wish to grow figs outside their normal range must plant them in containers or go to considerable efforts to protect them during the winter.

Ideally, fig plants should have a well-drained loam with plenty of organic matter, but they will tolerate average to poor soil. Once they are established they are somewhat drought tolerant (probably due to their very extensive and wide-ranging root system). Figs tolerate soils with pH ranging from 5.5 to 8.0. Growers with acidic soils should apply lime to bring the pH up the fig's preferred pH of 6.0 to 6.5.

Fig plants need plenty of sun (8+ hours at least) and heat which helps ripen the fruit. Figs respond very well (better than most fruit trees) to heavy applications of manure and compost. Be sure not to apply fertilizers too late in the growing season since that would spur new growth that cannot harden off before winter. Apply 2 to 3 cups of a balanced (6-6-6 or 8-8-8) fertilizer with micro-nutrients three times a year to mature, in-ground plants. If you grow figs in containers, be sure to use a fertilizer containing them. I recommend a complete slow-release fertilizer like Osmocote. Follow the package directions. Organic growers should apply generous amounts of compost and a high-nitrogen fertilizer like cottonseed, soybean or alfalfa meal.

For the best fruit production, water your figs regularly during the growing season unless rainfall is adequate. Take care that the soil is not constantly soggy. When fall arrives, stop watering and allow your plants to harden off.

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